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Horse and Cow: Where the designated driver is king

Mike Looby, the owner of the Horse and Cow Bar and Grill, prides himself on his bar being a real dive — pun intended. The Horse and Cow is famous for being a place where submariners can hang out, have drinks and talk shop. While the bar has only been on Chico’s Northlake Highway for a tad more than two years, its reputation is a 60 -year-old one. That reputation works both to the Horse and Cow’s advantage and disadvantage. It also can be summed up in one phrase: what happens at the Horse and Cow stays at the Horse and Cow.

With previous locations in San Francisco, Vallejo and San Diego (all in California), the Horse and Cow has always been known for being a place where “You can do anything you want to, as long as you don’t burn the place down,” Looby said.

Now, after more than a half-century of being known as a submariner’s haunt where almost anything goes, the Horse and Cow is trying combat its image through an aggressive designated driver campaign.

What’s the problem?

Mooby is caught in a quagmire: while embracing the bar’s rich heritage and still catering to his target clientele, he also is facing the dubious task of preaching responsibility. This comes with its own set of challenges because most of the men who hang out at the bar are the younger men who, if they weren’t in the Navy, would likely be in college. In this set there are some binge drinkers whose mindset is that because they are young, they are invincible, said Horse and Cow general manager Chris Houston, a retired Navy senior chief.

“We’re not telling these guys not to drink. We just want them to be responsible,” Houston said.

It will be an uphill battle.

In 2002, the Horse and Cow was one of about a halfdozen Kitsap County watering holes that were most frequently named by people pulled over for driving under the influence when they were asked their drinking location. The list is compiled by the Washington State Liquor Control Board based on data from the Washington State Patrol’s breath test records. Patrol officers ask those suspected of DUI where they last had a drink. The Horse and Cow had 42 mentions, according to Brian George, WSP public affairs officer. In 2003, the Horse and Cow was mentioned 65 times. To date this year, the Horse and Cow has been mentioned 14 times.

When people are suspected of DUI and have to do a breathalyzer test, patrol officers ask where they were drinking. If two establishments are mentioned, the second is the one recorded, George said.

The statistics only count those who were given a breathalyzer. In the case of some accidents where alcohol is a factor, sometimes drivers are not able to perform a breathalyzer test, George said. In that case, the WSP uses blood tests.

The WSP and drinking establishments, including the Horse and Cow, are working together to combat DUIs through public education.

“Drinking and driving collisions cost money and they cost lives,” George said. “Any group that contacts us, we’ll go meet with them.”

Where the designated driver is king

The Horse and Cow is taking the DUI problem seriously. Management is working with the U.S. Navy, the WSP and the Kitsap County Sheriff’s Department on educating its clientele on the dangers of drinking and driving. It also has an aggressive designated driver program on track to help curb DUIs.

“We want to work in partnership with the Navy and the area enforcement agencies to deter over-drinking,” Looby said. “Our goal and the Navy’s goal is the same — to educate the men and women who come here about responsible drinking.”

Designated drivers at the Horse and Cow get preferential treatment. When they go to the bar and identify themselves as a designated driver, they get a bracelet. That bracelet entitles them to free soda and juice, as well as a free bucket of fries or an eight-piece basket of chicken wings that night and a gift certificate for a free appetizer the next time they are at the bar.

As part of its awareness campaign, the Horse and Cow has a breathalyzer that is intended to show drinkers how a few drinks can push their blood alcohol content past .08, which is the legal blood alcohol limit to drive in the state of Washington.

The breathalyzer isn’t calibrated, so the results may not be perfect, Looby said.

“Our stance is if you drink any alcohol at all you shouldn’t get behind the wheel of a car,” Looby said

Lt. Gregory Rawins of the Bremerton Police Department also encourages those who drink to designate a driver and pointed out the consequences for a DUI can be devastating, especially for a young submariner.

In addition to facing a civilian court, those found guilty of DUI are punished by the Navy, as well.

“For any military person, it could have a definite impact on a career, particularly in positions that require someone to have a security clearance,” he said.

On the civilian side, anyone convicted of DUI can get their vehicle impounded and face fines up to $1,000 and a year in jail. A DUI also can make insurance rates skyrocket or even get a driver dropped from their insurance all together.

“It’s just too risky,” Rawins said.

They were “outed”

Almost every submariner has either heard of the Horse and Cow and the exploits that have taken place in the past or has a few stories to tell of his own. The submariners feel at home at the Horse and Cow because the bar is an unofficial museum with more submarine memorabilia than should be legal. Plaques, signed banners and official Navy photos adorn every square inch of the establishment’s walls. One of the most prized possessions is a klaxon — an alarm submarines use as a diving alarm or to alert submariners of an emergency.

Because the Horse and Cow is a tribute to them, the men of the sea (there are no women in the submarine service) are drawn to the bar like a mermaid to water.

Until 1998, those stories were shared as all good sea stories are — by word of mouth.

The exploits were outed with the publication of Sherry Sondag and Christopher Drew’s “Blind Man’s Bluff: The Untold Story of American Submarine Espionage.”

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